Ark. county considers raising ambulance fee
An $18 ambulance fee collected on personal property tax statements has been in place for 28 years; it may increase to between $60-$65 annually
By Justin Bates
SEBASTIAN COUNTY, Ark. — Sebastian County officials are mulling a possible increase in ambulance fees within the county to continue provide service.
Speaking to representatives of cities within the county, including four mayors, at the Sebastian County Intergovernmental Cooperation Council meeting on Monday, County Judge David Hudson outlined a plan for an increase in ambulance service fees for citizens who live outside of Fort Smith and Barling, which are served by the Sebastian County Emergency Medical Services. The EMS service area includes nine cities and the unincorporated areas, including Central City, Mansfield, Hartford, Lavaca, Greenwood, Bonanza, Hackett, Huntington and Midland.
An $18 ambulance fee collected on personal property tax statements has been in place for 28 years, implemented in 1986. The county EMS operates on a budget of $1.3 million. According to documentation provided by the county judge’s office, the EMS is supported by $250,000 from the ambulance fee, $500,000 from service billings, and $620,452 from the general fund.
Hudson said the county’s ambulance service is as fine of a service as any in the country, calling it a success story in providing services to those in its coverage area. Hudson said the proposed increase would be necessary to alleviate some pressure from the county’s general fund. Hudson said the 2015 budget is constrained to provide county government operations and service delivery, noting the increase in the general fund allocation to support EMS that has occurred over the last several years to bring the ambulance service up to current standards with two full-time 24-hour paramedic crews is the basis for the suggested fee increase to allow the county to continue to support the service.
“This is a discussion of service that affects your citizens, and we’d like to see from the mayors here who can show support for it,” Hudson said. “EMS provides service to all of your cities and we need to continue to sustain it to save lives.”
With the proposal gaining the blessing of the mayors in attendance and others on the panel, the county Quorum Court is also expected to discuss the manner when it meets today at 7 p.m., at the Greenwood Courthouse at 301 E. Center St.
Hudson was asked the amount of the increase and said although the number hasn’t been finalized, he estimated it could be increased to $60-$65 annually, but expected the sum to be final before discussing with the Quorum Court.
If the Quorum Court is receptive to the increase, a special meeting would be called to vote on the matter. If approved, the county would place the issue in voters hands in the Nov. 4 general election. If passed, the increase would be collected on 2014 personal property tax statements next year.
Act 833 Funding
In other business Monday, the panel discussed amending how Act 833 funding is distributed within the county. Rural and volunteer fire departments in Arkansas receive a portion of their funding from Act 833 of the state’s 78th General Assembly of 1991, which provides additional funding through insurance premium taxes.
At issue is the distribution of funding. According to Emergency Management Director Jeff Turner, the funding is distributed evenly amongst rural fire districts, provided they apply by the Oct. 31 deadline.
Turner said some rural fire chiefs in the county have wanted a change in how the money is distributed, because some agencies do not apply for the funding, because they either do not meet qualifications, or are disinterested in receiving it, and would like to redistribute those funds back to the qualifying agencies.
Newly appointed Huntington and former fire chief Mayor Gary Lawrence argued that the change needed to be made to redistribute money to the qualifying agencies who apply.
“I feel like if you pull money away from those agencies who don’t apply, that may make those qualifying agencies more motivated to do so,” he said. “If all of the chiefs who don’t want or need that money, it needs to be redistributed. … There are departments in this county who could use it.”
The local fire chiefs will gather Aug. 28 to discuss the possible policy change, and present to the intergovernmental council for approval, before taking the issue to the Quorum Court to consider in September.
|McClatchy-Tribune News Service|